Thursday, January 30, 2014

Damn, Almost a Year

I can't believe that I've been too busy this year to take 5 minutes for this 5-minute blog. Then again, actually I can. 2013 was murder on the hour-to-hour.

Here's to a less busy 2014. A 2014 that started out with me seeing of Montreal, getting a picture with Kevin Barnes, then hanging with Bennett Lewis and Rebecca Cash in Osaka for the rest of the night. All this while managing to be just drunk and starstruck enough to only make a mild ass of myself. Well, I hope mild. A great night with great people.

2014 looks like it will be a kickass year. And I'm more than ready to move some of this work from the income pile to the output pile. Time to dust off the notebook and get back into the poetry world. Speaking of which, watch for my poem "The Gunman" in Gargoyle #61 this summer.

Anyway, here's a picture of something to make this seem official.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Been Awhile Despite Promises

to myself and whoever might be still reading this. I thought I could just keep posts simple and shoot em off. But I have a way of making the simple difficult, either before acting or while. In any case here's a new post and a list some of what's been keeping me from the blog in no particular order:

Been on a Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart kick lately after some chance run-ins with these old favorites in a few places. One of my favorite run-ins thanks to a friend of a friend and a really really old friend we all have in common.

Reading a lot of fiction lately. Trying to get used to following more than one book at a good pace instead of my usual habit of starting a few books and diving into one. Murukami's 1Q84 has run ahead of the pack, but Rushdie's Midnight's Children has remained a great (though at times bewildering) bedtime book. Both have stopped me halfway through RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. So it seems I'm up to two books at a time; gotta start somewhere. Speaking of which, I highly recommend reading on your iPhone. I used to want a tablet for reading, but I've come to love reading from my old 3GS. I've read about 6 novels on it over the last year, fairly big ones too, and it's a wonderful operating system for reading, especially if you're like me and occasionally (or often) need to look up a word or two (iBooks comes with a dictionary) and if you like to highlight and write the occasional marginalia (habits of mine that have sadly become less habitual in recent times, but I suppose it looks better than my old books where I basically underlined each word as I read it).

Also, quitting my job to get back to my writing. Love teaching the kids, but damn it takes a lot. I'll miss it though. Amazing the bond you can make with children when you see them everyday. I feel like I have 16 6-year-old children. Graduation will be tough, but then it's back to teaching adults and the old challenges of that racket. Still, will give me time to write and study Japanese. Hopefully get around to some translating in 2012.

Going to continue this list in visual form for kicks, mine and yours. Thanks for reading along.

Ah, Europe!

 Well, going to leave it at that for now to get to the latest on the list: my new addiction to Justified.

Oh I lied. Also wanted to share this fascinating (to me at least) email I'd received in response to my bellyaching over my New Yorker subscription showing up sporadically. I'm going to copy and paste it below just because I think it's an amazing bit of history that most people know nothing about, and it's also the best customer-service experience I've ever had.

Dear Steven,
First, let me say I am sorry for all the problems that you have had over the last couple of years. The problem lies with the service that we use for distribution into Japan. The service is called ISAL and stands for International Surface Air Lift and is a product of the USPS. It was launched at a time when the airline industry was very much different than it is today. At the time the airlines were looking for ways to "ballast" their half empty or nearly empty planes as they flew them around the globe. The USPS had millions of kilos of flat, dense heavy material in the way of magazines and mail and a partnership was formed in the service called ISAL. For a discounted rate, the airlines would charge the USPS to move this material anywhere on the planet it needed to go. It was the 1970's, magazine publishing was exploding, air travel was skyrocketing, they couldn't build new aircraft fast enough to keep up with demand and transit times for mail was days into most places. Needless to say, it aint' that way anymore and although the ISAL service remains, there is no available space at times to move their material. Keep in mind that we are in Chicago. Not Los Angeles or NewYork so the number of direct flights to Japan are fewer than if we were on either coast. You probably notice service problems in the summer and at this time of year. That is because passenger travel peaks during those times of year and the cargo holds are full of luggage. This is also why you receive two or more issues together or out of sequence. They move what they can when they can. Sometimes that might be two shipments or sometimes this weeks shipment gets pushed back because it is larger than the shipment that just came in. 
All I can do is try and reroute your copy via another method. One would be via USPS first class air. It is basically the same service as ISAL except first class mail rides no matter what becuase it is generally only a bag or two  whereas the ISAL shipments are often several hundred kilos or more so obviously they have to wait. But with that guaranteed service is an incredibly high price. Average price for a copy of The New Yorker to go first class airmail to Tokyo is around 7-10 dollars. So, before we go down road, I am going to try to re route you through Paris as priority airmail. Since you are missing copies anyway, I will send you a few using this method and see how it goes. Is this o.k. with you? Are you still missing all the most recent issues or have some of them surfaced? Please advise as to what you have missed. I will send you one of the missing issues via La Poste and DHL the rest so you have them before the end of the year.
Again very sorry for the inconvenience that this has caused you. Hopefully this email helps you understand the obstacles we face in the distribution industry. incidentally, the reason that prior emails have been met with an almost robotic lack of compassion is because you were contacting the New Yorker customer service desk and not the distributor which would be Pitney Bowes. I work for Pitney Bowes. The New Yorker customer service desk deals mainly with subscription renewals, gift subscriptions, address corrections for DOMESTIC subscribers. They know absolutely nothing about foreign distribution or how to even investigate a foreign complaint. They have only just recently started forwarding these to me and I am a department of one. So I am sorry it took so long to get back to you. I will do my best to correct this problem going forward. Let me know what you are still missing.
Kind Regards,
 <Really intelligent guy giving you hope that the business of shipping magazines is in capable hands>

Anyway, till next post!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Post Thanksgiving Post

Hope my American friends' got their winter holidays off to a proper start. I read this nice little Adam Gopnik essay (see below) on the day we had a little Thanksgiving here in Osaka. Every year a dear friend manages to pull together expats from allover along with Japanese friends for a taste of America. Like everything that enters Japan, it takes on traits of Japan. The vast table always includes some sushi as well as seasonal Japanese fare. And of course the Kiwis bring lamb and an Aussie gives a cornbread recipe a go.

Anyway, this Gopnik essay made me again realize how much this holiday (especially in its current form out here) means to me. Of course, the essay is way bigger than my little world. But much like the holiday we recently enjoyed, I think there's a potential here for Americans, and all people of the world, to see in themselves. Here's to hoping we can keep the dream.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Actual Post! (Well, Ramblings) Tree of Life Is Finally Out in Japan!

Watching Tree of Life on Saturday I was constantly reminded of how much I enjoyed this film for many of the same reason I couldn't stand Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3. I wasn't sure why I kept thinking about Barney's film, which I hadn't seen since 2002. But now I think it has to do with 3 points:

1. Both films deal (to some degree) with progeny, particularly patriarchs.
2. Both films rely heavily on metaphor and symbol
3. Both films are considered (perhaps because of point 2) difficult and "artsy"

I also feel that these films share point 2 (and perhaps 3 as well) with a lot of poetry I like and dislike.  (Ok, this sounds really complicated now, but I think it will get easier now that that's out of the way. Bear with me.)

To start with, let's look at Malick's Tree of Life. Now my interpretation of the film is that it is about trying to understand why God has made the world as it is, a conflicting place of love and strife. If God loves us, why put us through pain? Why allow us to cause others pain? In the end, (again my interpretation) Malick suggests it is so we may experience mercy. So that we may have gain grace by understanding and choosing it. Not a new interpretation of the Old Testament, but new way of showing it and conveying his feelings on it.

Malick chooses a complicated metaphor to surround this story of a family dealing with a death: the birth and death of the universe. A challenging, but fitting metaphor. First, we see the birth of the universe as something grace and the birth of life (nature) as something violent. Life devouring life to evolve. Then there is this long scene of the two dinosaurs meeting on the river. The predator pins it's weak prey. (Survival of the fittest: his prey buddies got out of there while he slept.) But the predator waits, seems to think and doubt, then walks away. I think this is meant to be the first act of mercy, and the beginning of a new image of life. (Hence the destruction of the dinosaurs; destruction as a form of evolution, not of a species but of life.) Later, as the movie closes, we see the Earth being devoured by the Sun as it grows into a red giant. Again, destruction is the only response to evolution, but with the promise of life renewing.

Now as complicated as Malick's Tree of Life is, his images and metaphors (the above mentioned as well as those involved with the main plot of the family) are chosen and shaped to revolve around a center, the conflict and the emotional response the artist is trying to share with his viewers. The metaphors and images of the film are used as tools to make the viewer feel. Reading the above paragraph is not moving, but watching this film attentively is very moving. 

Barney in Cremaster 3 (according to fans I've spoken to who have read the viewers guide to the film and to my own interpretation) deals with evolution from one generation to the next. Barney overtaking his father among other powers overtaking a predecessor. Now, Barney's film is not very loving compared to Malick's--it is violent and the victor is often the one willing to lose something of grace (i.e. cheat, destroy, etc.)--but that is not important. Both concepts are sound and can be moving, whether to sadness or fear or anger; art is meant to make one feel, but what it makes you feel is up to the artist. But what I find troubling in Barney's film, is that he chooses his images not to create a center, but to confuse the observer. One example that comes to mind is the car fight scene, you can find it spread out in scenes of the video below:

Now the center car, as best I remember, is a model that was built the same year Barney's father was born, and the surrounding cars were built when Barney himself were born. So they are supposed to represent, I suppose, the child rebelling. And the dead woman returning to life inside the old car? Apparently, therise of Japan as an industrial superpower. Now, what is one supposed to feel here? All I really get, from a raw take and after conversing with Barney fans, is confusion. The symbols and images are chosen to be obscure and codified to not only an educated few, but an educated few willing to research the Barney's choices outside of just watching the film.

I guess in what I'm trying to say, in what's become a pseudo-review (and very hastily thought out at that), is that complicated art can be beautiful. But to complicate your art on purpose (to choose complication not as a way to more fully express your vision, but as a means of "muddying the waters" of it) has no place in art.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Iggy Pop Pulls It Off

I think watching this video can give people an idea of how it was perceived in '78 and how Baudelaire was perceived in 1857. Particularly love that we have some cowboy hats here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Datamoshing

I've seen a few of these videos before I realized it's a fast growing artform. I love it: the strange feelings it gives seeing glitches made into a new piece of work; the mix of past--be it old video footage (my current favorite) or the exploitation of what was once a common error in an earlier Internet and earlier browsers--and the obscure. Have a look. (Warning: the video below really shouldn't be seen by children. Obviously--from the still--there is some sexual content, but the visual effects themselves would have freaked a younger Steven Breyak. (I was pretty sensitive.))

It's like visual hip-hop. With a lot of psychedelics going on. If you like, check out Youtube, and please share some thoughts here.